It is safe to say that during the course of most people’s lives, they are going to encounter a challenging obligation. The action that is demanded may not make perfect sense to them, and it may cause them to question either the necessity for the performance of that act or adherence to that obligation at all. At such a time, they may encounter that famous parental phrase used to support allegiance to a mandate: “Because I said so.” Compliance with a rule or request is then not based on rationale or understanding; it is based upon trust. Obedience is expected because of the trust put into the source of the request, oftentimes a parent. A parent may make a request of a child, and that child may have difficulty with understanding the request. The child wants to understand the request in order to fully connect with the parent when performance is accomplished. However, due to the concern of the child’s lack of understanding preventing the performance, the parent demands to be obeyed simply because the parent made the request. The understanding is important, but it should not come at the expense of the cooperation. Hopefully, the child understands that the basis of the obedience is in the implicit trust placed in the parent.
In reality, we take this attitude towards Mitzvot. We are charged with learning about them so that we may understand them to our fullest capacity. When we achieve greater understanding of the Mitzvot, our fulfillment of them, our Kiyum, is on a deeper level. However, gaining an enhanced understanding of the Mitzvot is a life’s work in progress and should not stand in the way of doing what we are commanded. This is based upon that same trust as with a child. In this case, the trust is in Hashem; we will do what Hashem requests because He has so requested.
Our first Parashah this week, BeHar, includes an interesting example of this phenomenon. In its discussion of poverty (VaYikra 25:35-38), we are told to lend money to the unfortunate, but also not to charge them interest. This seems sensible, because it can be cruel to profit from someone who is in trouble; how immoral it would be to take advantage of their pitiful situation! On the other hand, shouldn’t the lender be able to fairly charge for the use of his money? However, the Torah prohibits the charging of this interest, in conjunction with fearing Hashem, and, two verses thereafter, adds that Hashem is the One who took us out of Mitzrayim. It appears as though these two ideas are there to inspire us to avoid charging interest. Rashi (25:36 s.v. VeYareita MeiElokecha) tells us that mankind is prone to the desire of charging interest. Therefore, we need to focus on our fear of Hashem in order to conquer our greed. I submit that Rashi is trying to help the lender focus on the fact that since Hashem owns everything, it is out of line to charge interest; that would imply that he has total ownership of the money, to the exclusion of Hashem’s claim.
The second idea is a bit more challenging. What does taking us out of Egypt have to do with charging interest? Rashi (25:38 s.v. Asher Hotzeiti etc.) quotes the Gemara (Bava Metzi’a 61b) that explains: Just as in Egypt Hashem was able to differentiate between those who were firstborn children and those who were not, so too, Hashem can tell the difference between those who charge interest under an evil pretense, and those who work within the guidelines of Halachah. The analogy here seems flawed: Whether one is a firstborn or not is a function of identity, rather it is a biological fact. On the other hand, charging interest is a matter of a person's deeds and intentions. How can the two cases be compared?
We can suggest the following. Rashi presents this analogy to send us a most powerful message. Just as being a firstborn is an issue of identity, so too, our actions can be seen as an issue of identity. One cannot claim that one’s deeds are not a reflection of one’s identity. Our identity and our actions are closely interconnected and reflective of each other. We now can see the beauty of the comparison. The knowledge of the firstborn status is really knowledge of our essence. Of course Hashem knows what we do and our intentions. More importantly, Hashem knows how our actions and thoughts connect to who we really are! This idea is reminiscent of one of the explanations behind the two Tefilin that are worn. The Tefilah worn on the head should be reflected in the wearer’s thoughts. The Tefilah worn on the arm should be reflected in the wearer’s deeds. Ultimately, there should be a harmony and a consistency between one’s thoughts and one’s deeds. In this way, we not only adhere to Hashem’s requests because He says so, but also because He knows so: He knows what to demand from us that will bring out the best in each and every one of us. May we all be Zocheh to perform Devar Hashem – not only if we understand it, but even more so when we don’t – and help bring about the redemption for which we all yearn.